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IPFS News Link • Food

New documentary shines a light on ultra-processed foods


Many of the food industry's problems can perhaps be summed up by the humble buttered-popcorn jelly bean. Love or hate this sweet treat, its 1989 introduction was a chewy harbinger of food scientists' ability to make any food taste like any other food. If a sugary candy could send savory signals to the brain, what else was possible?

A lot, it turns out. Flavor technology has evolved rapidly in recent years. Forget about candy that smacks of toasty popcorn; lab-grown meat is now practically indistinguishable from the real thing. But as much as advances in bioengineering have leveled up the veggie burger beyond belief, among myriad other breakthroughs, they've also let loose a deluge of so-called health foods that might not be so healthy in the long run. The new documentary Food, Inc. 2, which is now playing in select theaters and available for rent on streaming platforms, argues that when a product's calorie or fat count appears too good to be true, your brain and body may suffer from the deception.

Food, Inc., which came out in 2008, used corporate farming as a launchpad for exploring all manner of unethical practices in the modern food industry. Although some in the industry argued that the film offered only a one-sided interpretation, the Oscar-nominated documentary resonated so deeply with audiences, it nearly derailed filmmakers Robert Kenner and Melissa Robledo's careers. Rather than move on to another project right away, the pair found themselves occupying dais-side seats on a never-ending rotation of food panels.

"There was a total explosion of interest that caught us by surprise, frankly," says Kenner.

That explosion was accompanied by massive shifts in the culinary landscape. In the years after the film came out, the then-burgeoning Food Movement galvanized interest in environmental, nutritional, and labor concerns; the number of farmers markets spiked; and so did healthy alternatives in grocery stores. Also happening soon after: Wide adoption of the phrase "ultra-processed foods," even as these foods continued to proliferate on store shelves.